Discussion Notes for Greek and Roman Religion: Honouring the Gods (version A)


Case Studies on Honouring the Gods in Asia Minor

Case Studies on the Mysteries

Case Studies on Associations, Immigrant Groups, and Cultural Minorities


  • Overview of course outline and get to know one another
  • Discussion:
    • How do we approach the study of religion and cultural life generally in an academic context? (e.g. what are the characteristics of the academic study of religion / Religious Studies)


    • What problems do scholars have in approaching social and cultural life in the ancient world?
      • Nature of the sources
      • Cultural divide and the problem of ethnocentrism


    • How do we define ancient “religion”?
      • Difficulties in defining “religion” within Religious Studies itself
      • What do you associate with the concept of “religion”? What comes to your mind when the term is used? etc.
      • Some differences in emphasis between modern Western and ancient “religion”
        • Monotheism as standard (in the West) vs. polytheism as standard
        • Focus on belief vs. focus on practice
        • Individualistic vs. communal
      • Did the Greeks and Romans have a word for “religion”?
        • Latin pietas; Greek eusebeia – not equivalents for our term “religion”
        • The honour-system and the place of the gods within it (ancient concept of “honouring the gods” as the closest we’ll get to “religion”)
        • What was involved in honouring the gods? What mindsets / worldviews are reflected in the practices associated with honouring the gods? To be continued throughout the course.


Introduction, part 2: Honouring the Gods in Asia Minor

1. Identifying “religion” in the Greco-Roman world (discussion of Rives, ch. 1)

  • Characteristics of Greco-Roman “religion” / honouring the gods
    • 1. Polytheistic and non-exclusive (many gods, but also many Artemises, Zeuses, etc)
    • 2. Communally focussed (not individualistic)
    • 3. Embedded in everyday life (social, political, economic, religious)
    • 4. Overall common worldview and practice:
      • Key concepts: 1. honour / shame; 2. piety (eusebeia); 3. salvation (soteria — safety, security); 4. Cult – Honours for the gods, protection for humans
    • 5. Diversity from region to region and within each region
    • Social system of honours and benefactions (favours) as key to understanding “religion” in the Greco-Roman world (at least in the Eastern part of the empire) – Exchange as the key concept
      • Hierarchically defined system with gods at the top
      • Appropriate cultic honours or gifts for gods and goddesses:
        • Centrality of sacrifice: Offerings of animals, foods, drink.
          • Communal meals integral (presence of the god in some cases)
        • Prayers and accompanying votive offerings (vows)
        • Singing (sung prayer) and dancing
        • Festivals and celebrations
        • Performing: Re-enacting the stories of the gods
        • Specific rites and mysteries
      • Social Settings for Honouring the Gods
        • Official: Civic cults (e.g. theatres, gymnasia); Provincial cults; Cults at the centre (Rome)
        • Unofficial: Family/household; Workplace; Local shrines/temples; Guilds and associations
  • Discussion of Rives’ “Approaches to the Divine” (discussion):
    • What is the starting point of Rives’ sketch of the approaches? What are the characteristics or features of each approach? How does each approach relate to the others?
    • 1) Cult; 2) Myth; 3) Art; 4) Philosophy (issue of morality and a way of life)


2. Regional traditions in honouring the gods (discussion of Rives, ch. 2)

  • Geographical overview of the Roman empire and Asia Minor
  • Variety in honouring the gods from region to region (and variety within each region)
    • E.g. Ionia, Phrygia, Lydia
  • Common denominators: Sacrifice as the primary mode of relation to the gods
  • Similarities and differences between Greek and Roman ways

3. Photographic tour of cultural life in Roman Asia Minor


Civic Cults: Case Study of Artemis of Ephesos (Ephesus)

1. Background on Ephesos within the Roman province of Asia

  • Strabo on Ephesos
  • Historical highlights from 133 BCE on:
    • Economic centre (sea and two main land routes)
    • Roman provincial centre under Augustus and building programs
    • Provincial imperial cult under Domitian


  • Overview of the layout of Ephesos in the imperial period (plans here and here)

2. Civic cults and the cult of Artemis Ephesia

  • Civic cults in Roman Asia
    • Artemis: Typical or atypical?
    • Limited nature of our evidence even for Ephesos

1) Relations between a polis (Ephesos) and its patron deity (Artemis)

  • Discussion of IEph 24 [“Holy days…” in coursepack] and Acts 19
  • Attachment and diffusion of the cult of Artemis Ephesia (see “Holy days . . . ” pp. 6-7 of coursepack)

2) Images, attributes, and perceptions of Artemis Ephesia

  • Discussion of the statues and the Ephesian Artemis’ appearance (photos you saw on my blog)

3) Artemis’ Temple, her functionaries, and her cult

  • Last three temples: 1) Earlier temple destroyed; 2) ca. 500s-356 BCE (built by Croesus, destroyed by fire, according to Plutarch); 3) 300s BCE-262 CE (destroyed by Goths)
    • Lack of archeological evidence: Literary descriptions of the last temple, especially Pliny the Elder, Natural History 36.21
    • Wonder of the world (Antipater in Trebilco p. 20)
  • Functions of the temple: cult, asylum, and economics (bank; Dio Chrysostom in Trebilco p. 25)
  • Local practices and stories (discussion of Strabo)
    • Cultic leaders and functionaries in the temple
    • Civic festivals: 1) Artemisia (probably processions and sacrifices – discuss IEph 24 [“Holy days…”]; 2) Birth festival (stories of the birth)
    • Mysteries for Artemis Ephesia among the Curetes and elsewhere
    • Additional festivals and processions (e.g. Salutaris, from 104 CE)
    • General lack of evidence on details of celebrations, but one can compare other cults such those at Magnesia regarding sacrifices

3. Other cults at Ephesos


Healing Sanctuaries: Case Study of Asklepios at Pergamon

1. Healing gods and sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman world: an overview

  • Gods and goddesses associated with healing (e.g. Hygieia, Amphiaraos – photo of a monument)
    • Asklepios (Asclepius – photo): Sanctuaries (e.g. Epidauros, Kos, Athens, Corinth) and stories

2. Pergamon and its healing sanctuary

  • Introduction to Pergamon
  • The Asklepieion, or sanctuary of Asklepios, at Pergamon
    • Buildings: Hellenistic era (built in fourth century BCE, official status in the late third); Roman era buildings (good online description here); Google sattelite maps: Acropolis and lower city; Asklepieion
      • Sanctuary: temple of Asklepios, treatment centre/incubation, tunnel to sacred spring, theatre, gymnasium, latrines, etc
      • Building dedications to Asklepios (discussion of inscriptions)


    • Organization, functionaries, and interactions among participants (priest, temple-wardens, others)
    • Healing and healing procedures in the sanctuary
      • Incubation
      • Sacred law guidelines for incubants (MacMullen, p. 30)
      • Dreams and healing instructions from Asklepios and from others in the sanctuary (MacMullen, p. 30)
      • Votives and inscriptions in thanks for healings (MacMullen, p. 31)

3. Case study of Aelius Aristides’ interactions with gods and with Asklepios (in Sacred Tales)

  • What does Aristides’ Sacred Tales reveal concerning:
    • Greco-Roman notions of healing and the gods
    • Asklepios as a god of healing
    • the nature of relations between a worshipper and the god(s) (also what gods are involved)
    • means of honouring the god(s)
    • modes of communication used by the god(s)
    • notions of benefactions from the gods, including healing
    • healing techniques and Asklepios as god of healing
    • practices and organization within an Asklepios sanctuary
    • the world of the provincial elites

4. Religion and Community (discussion of Rives ch. 4)


Oracular Sanctuaries: Case Study of Apollo at Didyma

1. Divination and oracles in antiquity

  • What is divination?: Interpreting the messages of the gods
  • Forms of divination:
    • 1) Inductive divination: Interpreting events (omens) and nature (birds, movements of the human body, lots, examination of entrails, fire)
    • 2) Inspired divination: Dreams and oracles
  • Oracular sanctuaries of Apollo in the Roman period
    • Delos as the mythical birthplace of Apollo (sometimes)
    • Centrality of the Delphic oracle
      • Procedure and functionaries at Delphi
      • Oracles from Apollo at Delphi (cf. IMagnMai 215 in coursepack)

2. Oracular sanctuaries in Asia Minor

  • Claros (near Colophon – north of Ephesos)
    • Sanctuary and the sacred cave and spring
    • Procedures and functionaries in the sanctuary (see Johnson, 77-78)
      • Tacitus’ description of the procedure
    • Examples of oracles (only 25 survive):
      • Cities of Asia Minor consult on plagues around 150 CE
      • Aelius Aristides’ consultation
    • Myths or stories of the oracle’s origins and importance (see Johnson, 81-82)


  • Didyma, a.k.a. Branchidae (near Miletos – south of Ephesos)
    • The sanctuary and its remains (Hellenistic and Roman era)
    • Procedures and functionaries in the sanctuary (Hellenistic and Roman eras)
      • History: Branchidae (hereditary family leadership until 494 BCE) and later control by Miletos after Alexander’s support from 330s BCE
      • Females oracular experts (manteis), propehet, magistrate, treasurers, female water-bearers, board of officials in charge of order, scribes
      • Iamblichus on the female expert’s method of consultation (see Johnson, 85)
    • Examples of oracles (70 survive; discussion of Fontenrose in coursepack)
      • Topics of consultation; individual vs. group consultations; identity and social status of those who consult Apollo; implications for understanding attitudes towards the gods and the gods’ relations with humans, etc.
  • Some other oracles in Asia Minor
    • Incubation oracles (via dreams) – e.g. Asklepios sanctuary (Aelius Aristides) and Amphiaraos
    • Fire-oracles, water-oracles, dice-oracles (see Johnson, 98-100)
    • Later in the course: Oracle run by Alexander of Abonuteichos

3. Rives on Mobility of People and Gods (“Religion and Empire” in ch. 5)


Imperial Cults: Honouring the Emperors as Gods

1. Introductory discussions

  • “Religion and empire” (discussion of Rives)
  • Reminder on the exchange system of honours and benefaction – social and cosmic hierarchies

2. Imperial cults or honours for the emperors as gods in Asia Minor

  • Scholarly debates and problems
    • The decline theory and ruler cult
    • Integrated or fundamentally different?
      • Merely political?
      • Top-down or grassroots?
      • Emperors truly viewed as gods?: Question of ontology (true nature; Price’s position: emperors between humans and divine
  • Four main layers of imperial cults1) The city of Rome and its official rituals for dead emperors: divinizing deceased emperors (sometimes)2) Provincial cults in the province of Asia (Friesen’s studies)
    • The contest for honouring the emperors and the calendar of Roman Asia in 10/9 BCE (discussion of SEG IV 490 = OGIS 458 in course pack)
    • Provincial imperial cults under the Julio-Claudians and Flavians
      • Temples at Pergamon (29 BCE), Smyrna (26 CE), Miletos (37-41 CE), Ephesos (89 CE)
      • Organization of provincial imperial cults


    • The hymnsingers (hymnodoi) and their role in official celebrations in honour of the emperors, ca. 44 CE (IEph 3801 in coursepack)


    3) Civic (or municipal) cults


    4) Local cults, including associations (discussion of Harland)

    • Inscriptions in Harland (discussion)
      • Demetriasts at Ephesos and their mysteries and sacrifices, ca. 88 CE(IEph 213 in Harland p. 91)
      • Hymnsingers at Pergamon and their mysteries and celebrations in honour of the emperors, ca. 110 CE (IGR IV 353 = IPergamon 374 in course pack)

Elite perspectives 1: Epictetus and Dio of Prusa, Stoic Philosophers

1. Introduction to elite perspectives

  • Problems in using only literary evidence to study honours for the gods (hence our attention to epigraphic and archeological evidence) but importance of not ignoring elite perspectives altogether
    • Reading between the lines of elite writings to get at social life
    • Reading elite writings for elite perspectives


  • Range and diversity of opinions among the elite intellectuals despite common ideas
    • E.g. of Aelius Aristides vs. more skeptical thinkers
    • Orators, doctors, philosophers


  • The philosophical life
    • Different schools of philosophy by the Roman era and blending among them: Platonic, Epicurean, Stoic, Cynic
    • Three areas of philosophy: logic, physics, ethics
    • Common notion of a way of life and ethics as central
    • Importance of some notion of god (though not a traditional Homeric one) in most cases
    • Non-traditional views of regular people’s approach to the gods: Some reject average approaches while others view them as useful or harmless in some ways
  • Stoic philosophy in the Roman era
    • Logos (Reason as a divine principle) as the organizing principle of the universe
    • Philosphical life as living in accordance with the Logos


3. Epictetus the Stoic philosopher (discussion of “Religion as Moral Transformation: Epictetus”)

  • Epictetus’ background
    • Ex-slave from Phyrgia
    • Student of Musonius Rufus (like Dio) and a teacher himself
    • Exiled with other philosophers by Domitian
    • Works: Encheiridion (“Handbook”) and Discourses


  • Epictetus on the gods and piety
    • Reason (Logos) as the divine principle at the centre of the cosmos which interpenetrates everything in nature
    • Living and behaving in line with reason (i.e. the moral life) – humans are like or equal to god

4. Dio of Prusa (Dio Chrysostom) the Stoic-Cynic philosopher

  • Dio’s background
    • Elite family in Prusa (I-II CE) and early education in literature and rhetoric
    • Probably studied with the Stoic-Cynic philosopher Musonius Rufus
    • Friend of the Flavian emperors, especially Titus, but exiled by Domitian (in the 90s CE)
    • Philosopher and rhetorician/orator who travelled around Asia Minor
      • Main source: Orations (speeches)
      • “Golden-mouthed” (Chrysostom)
      • Examples of his speeches (orations) to cities in Asia Minor: Oration 38 to the Nicomedians regarding concord with the Nicaeans


  • Dio on the gods and piety
    • “The Olympic Oration: On the first knowledge of god” (Oration 12; ca. 105 CE)
      • Setting of the speach at Olympia before the temple of Zeus (and Pheidias’ statue of Zeus)
      • The tripartate theology, or three-fold way of talking about the gods
        • Varro (as preserved in Augustine of Hippo’s discussions) as our most explicit description of the three ways of talking about or approaching the gods: 1) mythological approach of poets; 2) civil approach of lawgivers and priests; 3) philosophical or natural approach of philosophers
        • Dio’s revision of the tripartate idea
          • 1) Natural (innate) and the philosophical
          • 2) Artistic and the poetic / mythical
      • Rhetoric (demonstrative / forensic) and structure:
        • Introduction / establishing relationship and importance of subject
          • Dio as the owl (1-14); Dio’s journey among the Getae (17-20)
          • The image of Olympian Zeus as pretext for the discussion (20-26)
          • The nature of the gods and what approaches are best (27-85)
            • Natural, innate source of knowledge of god (27-39)
            • Acquired knowledge of god through myths (poets) and customs (lawgivers / civic) (39-43)
            • Artistic sources (44-46)
            • Philosophical approaches (47 – linked with natural)
            • Pheidias’ defence of his art (48-85) – superiority of art to myth despite art’s shortcomings

Regional and Indigenous Practices: The Gods and Everyday Justice in Lydia and Phrygia

1. Indigenous cults in Asia Minor / Anatolia

  • What do we mean by Indigenous?
    • e.g. Lydian, Phrygian, Pisidian, Galatian
    • Gods and their cults within villages and the countryside


  • Discussion of Mitchell’s argument concerning rural and indigenous cults in Asia Minor
    • Distinctive elements and common denominators
  • Cults of 1) the Mother of the gods, 2) Zeus, 3) Men, 4) Holy / Just, and others
    • Discussion of the evidence presented in Mitchell’s chapter
    • A Cult and association of the god Men in Attica (Horsley inscription)


2. Justice from the gods in Lydia and Phrygia

  • The confession / propitiation inscriptions (Beichtinschriften) of Lydia and Phrygia
    • The nature and structure of the inscriptions
      • 140+ inscriptions found (Petzl’s collection), esp. Katakekaumene region N-E of Sardis
      • Content / structure (Rostad’s work):
        • Dedication
        • Narrative concerning transgression
          • What types of “sins”?
        • Divine intervention / punishment
          • What gods are involved (prominence of Men and Anaitis with Persian connections, but also Apollo Lairbenos and Zeus)? What forms of punishment and justice?
        • Propitiation / appeasement of the angry god


    • The practices and worldviews behind the plaques
      • What do these inscriptions reveal about the worldview of the participants? What practices were entailed? What do these tell us about how the gods were seen to be active in everyday life and in ensuring justice? How were the gods integrated within daily life? etc.


Elite perspectives 2: Artemidorus of Daldis, “Scientific” dream-interpreter

1. Artemidorus and his background

  • Mother born in Daldus but lived most of his life in Ephesos


  • Artemidorus’ work: Dream Interpretations
    • Structure:
      • books 1-2 – dreams by subject (2.33-39 involve dreams about the gods)
      • book 3 – a supplement of omitted material
      • book 4 – another supplement dedicated to his son
      • book 5 – 95 dreams that came true


    • Sources: Uses many other works on interpreting dreams


    • Method and theory of dreams (see article by Simon Price)
      • Dream interpretation as a form of divination and a “science” (along with other forms of divination such as interpreting the flight of birds and other observations in nature)
        • Artemidorus as an Empiricist (not a Rationalist or Methodist) in debates among physicians / “scientists”:
          • 1) tradition: transmission of findings of earlier writers tested by experience
          • 2) analogy and similarity: treatment of one part of the body may be taken as an analogy for the treatment of a similar part of the body (based on experience)
          • 3) experience (empeiria): observations and development of knowledge based on experience


      • Categorizing dreams:
        • 1) enhypnia – no predictive value and merely reflect the present state of things in the dreamer’s everyday life and his or her anxieties
          • A true intellectual or philosophical person will not have these dreams because they will be in control of his desires (Stoic philosophical influence)
        • 2) oneiroi – predictive dreams
          • The Gods as senders of oneiroi dreams
            • Argues against some sceptics who question the existence of predictive dreams
            • Most predictive dreams: “For the god presents to the dreamer’s soul, which is by its very nature prophetic, dreams which correspond to future events” (4.2)
            • This type includes oracular dreams (like those in Aelius Aristides) but Artemidorus’ considers oracular dreams impenetrable and sets them aside
          • The direct (theorematikoi) and illusive (allegorikoi) prediction of the future


      • Knowledge base for interpretation:
        • (1) local customs of the dreamers (hence need for the interpreter to travel); (2) the dreamer’s social-economic status, health and age, as well as state of mind; (3) the habits of the dreamer


2. Dreaming about the gods in Artemidorus Interpretation of Dreams

  • The gods in people’s dreams and Artemidorus’ interpretations (discussion of readings 33-34, 68)
    • Gods as representing ages: boy indicates Hermes, young man Herakles, grown man Zeus, old man Kronos, etc.

3. Dreams as presented in literary form (discussion of Hanson)


Elite Perspectives 3: Lucian of Samosata on Alexander of Abonuteichos (Epicureans vs. Pythagoreans)

1. Lucian of Samosata (ca. 125-185 CE) and his intellectual context

  • Lucian’s life and works
  • Lucian’s Epicurean sympathies (esp. 5, 25, 43, 47, 61)
    • Epicureans on the gods
      • Views attributed to Epicurus (ca. 341-270 BCE): Gods exist but have no concern for what happens in this world
      • Epicurean critique of traditional cults
    • Celsus the Epicurean addressee of the biography
      • Celsus’ attack on magicians (21)
    • Philosophers at Amastris as Lucian’s allies against Alexander (25) – civic rivalry involved
    • Pythagoreans as magicians and quacks from the Epicurean perspective
    • Lucian on the value of Epicurean books/teachings (cf. 47, 61; but do see Philosophies for Sale 19, where an Epicurean sells for less than a Stoic or a Pythagorean but more than a Cynic)


  • Alexander’s Pythagorean connections
    • Pythagoras of Samos (ca. 570-490 BCE): Little known of his own teachings but many looked back to him as the origins of many philosophical ideas (including those of Plato and Aristotle)
    • Pythagoreanism as a diverse movement: Transmigration of souls as a common tenet; ascetic practices such as vegetarianism
    • Alexander as a student of a physician in Tyana (Cilicia) who was a student of Apollonios of Tyana, the Pythagorean philosopher in the first century CE (5)
      • Philostratos’ defence of Apollonios against common accusations in the Life of Apollonios
        • Apollonios modeling himself after Pythagoras with regard to honouring the gods and living life properly
        • Apollonios’ rejection of some traditional rituals: refraining from eating flesh of animals or offering blood sacrifices – true worship is interior spiritual worship (prayer)
      • Lucian’s claims that Alexander modeled himself after Pythagoras or held Pythagorean teachings (e.g. 4, 34, 40).
    • Alexander’s anti-Epicureanism: “Away atheists!” and burning of Epicurean books (25, 47)

2. Lucian’s satirical biography of Alexander the “False-prophet”

  • The progression of the story:
    • Biographical intro, Alexander’s character and upbringing (1-5)
    • Founding a cult for a snake god at Abonoteichos (6-18)
      • Popularity and dissemination into Bithynia, Galatia and Thrace
    • Procedures and techniques at the oracle (19-29)
      • Opposition to the cult by followers of Epicurus at Amastris (25)
      • Authophones (talking snake) (26)
      • Diplomatic relations with other well-known oracles at Claros, Didyma and Mallos (29)
    • Dissemination as far as Italy and the connection with Rutilianus (30-37)
    • Mysteries (38-40)
    • Fraudulent activities and exposure by critics (41-61)
      • Introduction of nocturnal oracles (49)
      • Lucian’s personal attacks and Alexander’s retaliation (53-61)


  • Assessing Lucian’s attack on Alexander

3. The Glykon cult and its mysteries

  • Archeological and numismatic evidence for the Glykon cult (discussion of C.P. Jones)
  • Activities within the cult
    • Oracles
    • Mysteries

Introducing the Mysteries through the Oldest Examples: Eleusis and Samothrace

1. Introducing the mysteries

  • What are the mysteries?
    • Centrality of experience
  • Social settings of the mysteries (discussion of Burkert chs. 1-2)

2. Mysteries of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis (near Athens in Greece)

  • Stories associated with the mysteries
    • Homeric Hymn to Demeter as one version of the myth (discussion of the story)
      • Meanings in the myth (Demeter / Kore as closely linked with the agricultural calendar and the survival of humanity)
    • Clinton’s discussion of visual representations and the importance of Iakchos and Eubouleus at Eleusis
    • Link with the rituals: Centrality of Demeter’s grief and search in the actual mysteries themselves


  • The cult and its practices
    • Devoted to Demeter (goddess of grain and produce) and Kore (the Maiden)
    • “Lesser mysteries” at Agrai


    • “Greater mysteries” at Eleusis run by the city of Athens
      • Eleusis cult from 8th century BCE on
      • Initiation limited: No non-Greeks (“barbarians”), no murderers
      • Two stages of initiation: “initiation” (myesis from the Greek word for “to close”) and “viewing” (epopteia)
      • 8 days with culmination in the Telesterion at Eleusis
        • Functionaries: Eumolpidae, Kerykes (heralds), priests, priestesses, hierophant, mystagogues
          • Preparation: procession with the sacred objects (hiera) from Eleusis to Athens
        • Day 1: proclamation in Athens of the upcoming mysteries
        • Day 2: initiates-to-be purified and sacrifice a piglet
        • Days 3-4: sacrifices to the Eleusinian gods and to Asklepios by the civic officials
        • Days 5-6: processions from Athens to Eleusis (priest and priestesses returning the sacred objects to Eleusis and then initiates-to-be led by Iakchos to Eleusis
        • Culmination in the Telesterion
          • Room for 5000


      • What happened in the mysteries and what did they mean?
        • Things done, things shown, things said
          • Re-enactment of local mythologies of Demeter and Kore: Experiencing Demeter’s grief and joy at reunion
          • Plutarch’s description of the experience
          • Central role of the hierophant in revealing the sacred things or objects
            • Christian author’s claims about what was revealed
          • Secretive nature of the mysteries: Case of Alcibiades and Andocides profaning the mysteries (Andocides’ defence; Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades)
          • Issue of the afterlife


  • Mysteries of Demeter and Kore in other locations (discussion of Ephesian inscriptions from coursepack)

3. Mysteries of the “Great Gods” at Samothrace (an island off the coast of northwestern Asia Minor)

  • Stories – Problems in even identifying the “Great gods” (Theoi megaloi)
    • Contradictory and misleading literary sources (e.g. Herodotus’ identification with Kabeiroi, Diodoros of Sicily’s description of mythology; Strabo’s hesitancy):
      • Likely one female Cybele-like deity (Axiokersa), a pair of male deities depicted in ithyphallic statues (Axieros, Axiokersos), and an attendant (Kasmilos) (according to Cole and others)
      • No known stories (although Diodoros claims some)
  • The cult and its practices
    • Sanctuary of the Great Gods from 7th century BCE; key growth from the mid-third century BCE (Macedonian support)
      • Archeological work at Samothrace from late 1800s (plan, google maps) – Lehmann and others
      • Key buildings: Hieron (“Temple”), Anaktoron (“Palace”), Hall of the Choral Dancers
    • Yearly public festival and ambassadors (theoroi) from various locales
    • Initiation into the mysteries
      • No surviving descriptions of what happened in the initiation
      • Open to slave, free, Greek, non-Greek (contrast Eleusinian mysteries’ Greek requirement)
      • Not a fixed time of year (contrast Eleusinian mysteries)
      • Two stages of initiation: “initiation” (myesis) and “viewing” (epopteia)
        • Stage one and the Anaktoron
          • The procedure and the revelation of sacred objects and/or stories (the ithyphallic statues perhaps involved)
        • Stage two and the Hieron (inscription forbids entrance without initiation)
          • Compare the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter and Kore for two stages of initiation
      • Banqueting facilities for communal meals
    • Honours for the “Samothracian gods” elsewhere (especially from the mid-third century BCE on)


Dionysos and his Mysteries

1. Myth: The God and His Stories

  • Characteristics of the god Dionysos
    • Sometimes portrayed as coming from Phrygia or Lydia or Thrace (cf. Bacchae)
    • Alternate portrayals: Effeminate youth with curls vs. bearded man (symbolic of a bull)
      • Different Dionysoses with different epithets (e.g. Bromios/Thunderer, Breseus, Liknites/of the Basket, etc)
    • Attendants: satyrs and silenoi, maenads, cowherds
    • God of the vine, grape and wine; wild power and ecstasy / enthusiasm (posession by the god)
    • Symbols of Dionysos: e.g. vines, wine, ivy, wand (thyrsos) / reed, phallus, bull


  • Prominent stories
    • Stories of Dionysos’ birth and those who raised him (Silenos, nurses, etc.)
      • Dionysos as son of Zeus and Semele (daughter of Cadmos, the mythical founder of Thebes), who was killed by the glory of Zeus
      • Connection between myths and practices: e.g. of functionaries called “nurses”, Silenoi, satyrs, papas
      • Alternative stories: Dionysos Zagreus – birth and dismemberment (Rhapsodies)
        • Orphic form of mysteries for Dionysos (Orpheus as a legendary hymn-singer)


    • Dionysos and the “mad women” (maenads) at Thebes: Euripides’ Bacchae
      • Ritual maenads in reality (e.g. of Miletos inscription)


2. Cult: Rituals and Mysteries of Dionysos

  • No geographical limitations to the mysteries of Dionysos; popularity in the late Hellenistic and Roman periods
  • Visual / archeological evidence for the mysteries:
    • The Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii from the first century BCE
    • Farnesina ceiling stucco from the first century CE (figure 6 in Burkert)


3. Associations devoted to Dionysos: Epigraphic and Archeological Evidence

  • The foundation story at Magnesia
  • Maenads at Miletos
  • Cowherds at Pergamon and their meeting place
  • The Iobacchoi at Athens

Egyptian Gods and their Mysteries

1. Introduction

  • Egyptian deities exported to the Greek world: Isis, Osiris, Sarapis (Osiris + Apis), Anubis
    • Isis: Sister and wife of Osiris (Horus is her son)
      • Portrayals in art: Egyptian knot in dress at centre of chest, Egyptian headress (disc, 2 feathers and two ears of grain; cf. Apuleius pp. 178-79)
    • Osiris: Vegetation god and king of underworld
    • Sarapis: Combination of Osiris and the Apis bull; e.g. at Delos; Sarapis’ connection with banquets and banquet associations (e.g. Aristides’ description)
      • Portrayals in art: Bearded with long curly hair
    • Anubis: Dog-headed god


  • Isis’ rise to prominence (among Egyptian deities) in the Hellenistic era (from the fourth century BCE)
  • Temples and festivals for Isis:
    • Fresco from Pompeii; temple at Pompeii
    • Egyptian temples and care of the statue: Daily ceremonies awaking, dressing, and feeding the statue; Nightly closing of temple and undressing of the statue
    • Fall (Oct/Nov) celebration of Isis’ finding Osiris
    • Spring (March) Navigation festival (see Apuleius’ description of the procession, pp. 179ff)
  • Initiations into the mysteries of Isis and Osiris
    • What is similar and different from the other mysteries?
    • Serving the goddess

2. Myth: The gods and their stories

  • Attributes of Isis: The Cumae aretalogy (second century CE)
    • Compare Apuleius’ identification of Isis with other goddesses


  • Plutarch’s stories of Isis, Osiris and Horus (in Isis and Osiris)
    • Typhon (Seth) and his plot against King Osiris: The chest ( = casket)
      • Isis’ search for Osiris and time at Byblos; Isis’ mourning; Horus’ guarding of the chest and Osiris; Typhon’s dismemberment of Osiris; Isis search for the pieces Penis in the nile; Horus’ revenge against Typhon


3. Cult: Initiation into Isis’ Mysteries

  • Apuleius’ story of the initiation of Lucius (Metamorphoses, or the Golden Ass)
    • Is this a realistic portrayal of initiation? What is the nature of initiation into the mysteries of Isis and of Osiris? What is involved? What is different from other mysteries we have studied?

4. Egyptian deities and their temples elsewhere

  • The temples of Sarapis on the island of Delos (discussion of the founding inscription for Sarapeion A)


Introduction to Associations in the Greco-Roman World

1. What are associations?

  • Sources for the study of associations and honours for the gods within them
    • Epigraphical evidence: Honorary inscriptions (e.g. IEph 3801), dedications to the gods (IEph 1503), epitaphs (IMiletMcCabe 457), diplomatic letters (IEph 213; ISmyrna 600), laws or regulations concerning internal activities or meeting-places (e.g. IPergamon 374; ISmyrna 728; Iobacchoi at Athens), oracles (e.g. IMagnMai 215; IMilet 935)
    • Archeological evidence for meeting-places (e.g. Dancing cowherds at Pergamon; Berytians’ meeting-place on Delos; Iobacchoi at Athens)
    • Literary evidence and the problem of elite bias: Negative picture of associations


  • Defining associations
    • Small, informal groups (usually 15-50 members) that meet on a regular basis for intertwined social, religious and funerary purposes (often to some degree voluntary)
      • Common ancient Greek and Latin terms: thiasos, koinon, synodos, synedrion, synergasia, collegia
    • Brief history of the study of associations
    • Older scholarly typologies based on purposes: Cultic, occupational and burial associations (e.g. Waltzing)
      • Honouring the gods (cults) as an important aspect of virtually all groups
    • Importance of social networks in the formation and growth of social and religious groups (sociological insights)
    • Types and social makeup of associations:
      • 1) Household connections (e.g. Agrippinilla; Dionysios’s group at Philadelphia)
      • 2) Ethnic or geographic connections (e.g. Syrians / Phoenicians; Judeans)
      • 3) Neighbourhood connections (e.g. pp. 36-38 of my book Associations)
      • 4) Occupational connections (e.g. ISmyrna 721; pp. 39-40)
      • 5) Sanctuary connections (e.g. ISmyrna 728 [initiates]; Aelius Aristides’ references to therapeutists at the Pergamon Asklepios sanctuary)


  • Why study associations: Window into social and religious history

2. Intertwined purposes and functions of associations

  • Visualizing association-life: Monuments from Panormos (synagogue of Zeus) and Triglia (worshippers of Cybele and Apollo)
  • Challenging scholarly traditions (e.g. M.P. Nilsson, Ramsay MacMullen – p. 60): Those mere clubs (emphasizing the “social” and downplaying “religion”)
  • Cultic (“religious”) and social activities within associaitons
    • Reminder: Sacrifice and the communal meal as central to honouring the gods
    • Dedication of statues and altars for the gods (e.g. ISmyrna 721)
    • Offerings and sacrifices (e.g. IEph 213; IMagnMai 117)
    • Festivals and banquets (e.g. ISmyrna 653; IPergamon 374)


    • Case study of the foundation document of the association devoted to Zeus and Agdistis at Philadelphia in Asia Minor


  • Funerary activities (IMiletMcCabe 457; Hierapolis inscriptions; Devotees of Diana and Antinoos at Lanuvium; Iobacchoi at Athens)
    • 1. Burial of members and collective burial
    • 2. Fines for violation of the grave
    • 3. Funerary foundations and care of the grave


    • Relative importance of funerary functions from one group to the next: Iobacchoi vs. worshippers of Diana and Antinous


3. Groups of Judeans and Jesus-followers as (peculiar) associations

  • Brief history of the comparison of associations with Christian groups
  • Peculiar rejection of the gods of others and of sacrifice (after 70 CE) – source of being labelled “atheists” and cannibals by some at certain times (will return to this labelling later)
  • Nonetheless commonly perceived as associations:
    • Significant overlap in group self-designations (unusual Christian use of ekklesia): e.g. of “synagogue”
    • Internal self-definition: e.g. Josephus and Philo; Tertullian
    • External categorizations: e.g. Pliny the Younger, Lucian, Celsus


  • Importance of comparative studies for our understanding of social dimensions of Judean synagogues and Christian assemblies
    • Comparing how groups find a place for themselves within civic and imperial society
    • Comparing how groups and their members express belonging and identity


Associations within Greco-Roman Society and Culture: Comparative Studies

1. Associations within the civic context

  • Questioning scholarly traditions:
    • Associations of symptoms of decline or participants in civic vitality?
    • Traditional scholarly theory:
      • Decline of the city, including autonomy and democracy, in the Hellenistic era (e.g. GEM de Ste. Croix), feelings of detachment
      • Decline of culture and religion, rise of individualism and private religion (e.g. Nilsson, Festugiere)
      • Associations as compensatory phenomena within this declining context
      • Challenging such theories:
        • Greek city did not die (Robert); notions of autonomy and democracy and the idealization of Athens
        • Tendency to develop theories in hindsight (explaining the success of Christianity)
        • Imposition of modern concepts such as individualism and private religion


  • The civic framework and social networks of benefaction
  • Associations as participants in:
    • Political life: Exclusion of members of the guilds? – Linen-workers representative? (Dio Chrysostom, pp. 103-104); Silversmiths at Ephesos
    • Social networks of benefaction (inscriptions in coursepack)
    • Social and cultural life: Places reserved within central cultural institutions; Silversmiths’ riot as an example of involvement

2. Associations within the imperial context

  • Questioning scholarly traditions: Associations and the secret police?
    • Examples of imperial control of associations, especially in Rome and surrounding area of Italy; some cases in Asia Minor (Pliny the Younger)
    • Putting tensions in perspective


  • Connections with the imperial elites within networks of benefaction
  • Honours for the emperors and imperial cults:
    • Questioning scholarly theories about imperial cults as mere politics and lacking in religion (e.g. Nilsson)
    • Involvement of association in official imperial cults:
      • e.g. Hymnsingers and the provincial celebrations
    • Involvement of associations in internal honours for the imperial gods:
      • Groups named after imperial figures, sacrifices, mysteries etc.
      • Demetriasts at Ephesos
      • Hymn-singers’ festivals


    • Assessing the significance of imperial rituals from a social scientific perspective (e.g. Geertz, pp. 132-34)


3. Dynamics of identity within associations

  • What is “identity” (anthropological and sociological insights)?
    • Internal self-definitions
    • External categorizations


  • Multiple identities and memberships in the associations
    • E.g. Dionysios on Delos


  • Familial dimensions of group identity
    • “Brothers” within associations
    • “Mothers” and “fathers” within associations

Ethnic Associations in the Diaspora, part 1: Syrians and Phoenicians

1. Introduction to Ethnic Associations and Tools to Study Them

  • Social scientific approaches to identity and ethnic identity:
    • Shifting and changing (not static or primordial); Self-definition based on common sense of geographical, cultural and ancestral origins
    • 1) Internal self-definition and 2) external categorizations (including stereotypes)
  • Social scientific approaches to assimilation and dissimilation – the place of ethnic associations within society and the relation between groups (Milton Yinger, John Berry and others)
    • Cultural assimilation, or acculturation (in relation to language, values, and cultural conventions)
    • Structural assimilation (in relation to political, social, or economic structures of the host society) – formal and informal levels
    • Dissimilation and cultural maintenance – reassertion and strengthening of group differences


  • Various outcomes of processes of assimilation and dissimilation: 1) assimilation; 2) marginality; 3) integration and biculturalism

2. Immigrant and ethnic associations in the Greco-Roman world


3. Syrian and Phoenician immigrant groups

  • Contacts with the cultural life of the homeland, especially honouring the ancestral gods; differing degrees of contacts and interactions within the local host society
  • Case studies of Syrian associations
    • Attica and the Piraeus (III BCE): Association of Sidonians and the god Baal of Sidon (Eshmun)
    • Islands of the Aegean
      • Syme (I BCE): An Idumean and an association of Syrians
      • Delos (II-I BCE)
        • Syrians and Atargatis, the Pure goddess, from Hierapolis in Syria
        • Tyrians and Herakles (= Melqart)
        • Berytians, the ancestral gods (Poseidon; Astarte; Melqart) and Roma: Inscriptions and the meeting-place
        • Israelites (Samaritans)
    • Evidence from the Roman period (from Nisyros and Puteoli)

Ethnic Associations in the Diaspora, part 2: Judeans (Jews)

1. Introduction to the Judean diaspora and Judean groups in Asia Minor

  • Sources for the study of Judean immigrants in the Greco-Roman world
    • Judeans in Asia Minor: Josephus and archeology/inscriptions
  • Question of how Judean associations related to surrounding society and culture: Regional and chronological variations (problems in generalizing)
    • What do Barclay and Mitchell argue overall with respect to the relation of Judeans to surrounding cultures and peoples?
    • Signs of cultural maintenance, dissimilation (tensions), and assimilation (integration) in Asia Minor

2. Cultural maintenance and dissimilation

  • The decrees in Josephus (first century BCE)
    • John Barclay’s overview of the evidence and its significance
    • Problems in the sources
    • Late third century BCE settlement of Judeans in Asia Minor
    • Economic context of I BCE in Asia Minor
    • Maintaining connections with the culture of the homeland: Temple tax and its significance; “ancestral customs”; Honouring the Judean God; Sabbath observance (and impact on military service – 14.225-227); communal life
      • Some illustrative documents: 1) Pergamon (Ant. 14.247-255); 2) Parion (14.213-216); 3) Sardis (14.235 and 259-61); 4) Halikarnassos (14.256-258)


    • Assessing the decrees with respect to dissimilation and assimilation
      • Incidents of tension in the I BCE; Judean non-participation in local cults and honours for the gods
      • Josephus’ decrees as evidence that Judeans were participants within the structures of society (structural assimilation) – see Barclay p. 277

3. Assimilation and acculturation

  • Josephus decrees again: evidence of assimilation despite areas of tension and dissimilation
  • Inscriptional and archeological evidence for Judeans:
    • The synagogue at Akmoneia (mid-first century CE); Judeans in the theatre at Miletos; god-fearers at Aphrodisias; synagogue at Sardis – Mitchell p. 32 (discussion of Mitchell’s survey)
    • Case study of Judeans at Hierapolis


Other Cultural Minorities: Associations of Jesus-Followers

1. Introduction to the early Jesus movements

  • Origins within, and continuing connections with, Judean culture
  • Dissemination into the cities of the Mediterranean and the inclusion of non-Judeans (“Gentiles”)
    • Centrality of honouring the Judean God and recognizing Jesus as specially connected with that God — i.e. monotheism (common denominator)
    • Example of Paul bringing a Judean movement to the Greco-Roman world
      • Context of the god-fearers within Judean circles
    • Diversity of Jesus groups
  • Groups of Jesus-followers in Asia Minor (discussion of Thompson
    • 1) Asia Minor as a hub of early Christianity (cf. Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Pastoral Epistles, John’s Apocalypse, Johannine epistles, 1 Peter)
    • 2) Diversity in group-society relations: Christians and outsiders (“pagans”) and the issue of “persecution”

2. Dissimilation and assimilation in relation to Greco-Roman society and culture: Case studies

  • 1 Peter (late first century CE)
    • Dissimilation, cultural maintenance, and tensions
      • The situation of the Jesus-followers: The nature of their “suffering” (e.g. 3:13-17; 4:12-16
      • The reason for the “suffering”: Relation to former cultural life (ancestral ways) and social connections (1:13-19; 4:3-5)
      • 1 Peter’s strengthening of distinctive identity and differences from surrounding culture
        • Constructing / strengthening a distinctive (ethnic) identity:
          • “aliens” and “exiles of the diaspora”
          • “a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:4-10)
          • “born anew”
          • Honouring the Judean God
          • Other distinctive rituals and practices (e.g. baptism in 3:18-22)


    • Assimilation and acculturation
      • “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles” (2:11-3:7)
        • Honour the emperor
        • Household codes as an example of acculturation (David Balch)
          • Greco-Roman context of household codes


  • John’s Apocalypse (late first century CE)
    • Dissimilation, cultural maintenance, and tensions
      • John’s minority position: Assail the beast and “Babylon” (anti-imperialism and implications for relation to civic life) – “Come out of her, my people,…”
        • The choice: Worship the beast or worship the Judean God


    • Assimilation and acculturation (John’s opponents in the cities of Asia Minor)
      • Pergamon and Thyatira: eating idol food and “committing fornication”
        • Debates over food sacrificed to the Greco-Roman gods in early Christianity (e.g. Paul siding with John’s opponents?)


Stereotypes and Elite Perceptions of Cultural Minorities

1. Ethnic stereotypes in literary descriptions of Judeans and others

  • Importance of external categorization in the construction and reconstruction of identity
  • Context of ancient ethnographic writing
  • The cases of Tacitus and Apion
    • Common stereotypes about Judeans and the centrality of their refusal to honour the gods of others (“atheism”)

2. The image of the anti-association

  • Bandit associations in novels
  • Cultural minority associations: e.g. Bacchanalia (Greeks devoted to Dionysos in Rome)

3. Judean and Christian groups viewed as anti-associations

  • The trio of ritual atrocity: Human sacrifice, cannibalism, and sexual perversion

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